Crowdfunding and Public Interest Judicial Review: A Risky New Resource for Law Reform

21 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2018

Date Written: January 21, 2018


In their influential work, Harlow and Rawlings defined “pressure through law” as the “use of the law and legal techniques as an instrument for obtaining wider collective objectives.” They observed that the use of the courts by civil society organisations seeking reform was not just an American trend and nor was it new. In recent years, there has been a growing literature which has shown how some civil society organisations deployed the law and legal techniques to pursue wider reform objective. Much of the debate around this “mobilisation of law” considers why groups turn to the courts and why they do not. A common thread in this literature is how the availability of financial resources often determines the fate of public interest litigation.

In the context of judicial review in the UK, resources have become an increasingly tricky issue. The relationship between money and access to judicial review is a densely complex one, but many now claim that funding a judicial review is increasingly difficult. In this article, I explore whether crowdfunding—using an online platform to raise third party funding for a judicial review—is a possible answer to the issue of lack of resources in the context of public interest litigation. In other words, can crowdfunding support legal reform through the provision of resources for public interest litigation? I argue that crowdfunding can—in certain cases—solve the resource dilemma and be key in procuring reform via public interest litigation. However, it is far from a foolproof solution and there are multiple risks inherent in its use. The nature and extent of such risks are such that the crowdfunding of public interest litigation should be approached with great caution. In this respect, there is a role for civil society organisations that have engaged in public interest litigation to advocate for sensible and cautious use of crowdfunding methods.

Suggested Citation

Tomlinson, Joe, Crowdfunding and Public Interest Judicial Review: A Risky New Resource for Law Reform (January 21, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Joe Tomlinson (Contact Author)

University of Sheffield ( email )

United Kingdom

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